When being right about God means we’re wrong.

It’s funny how we use the phrase “God’s ways or understanding is bigger than our ways or understanding” when we try and pigeonhole God. It’s mostly used when people don’t know how to creatively answer questions about predestination or when it feels like God lets evil run rampant so much.

It’s also used when people question some of the parts of God that we find tricky to digest.

Yet the very people that use it the most when coming up against views of God can’t seem to let go of their own ideas of who God is and why He does or does not do things. After all, an understanding of God which states that some people were born just to go to Hell with no choice in the matter, because God has already decided, can’t see that perhaps this too is a human understanding of God. Continue reading

The problem with “God’s ways are not our ways”

All of us at some point or another have questioned our faith. If you haven’t yet, don’t worry your time will come. Things happen to us that seem so unfair and beyond any reason, that we question how something like this could happen. How could God allow us to suffer in this way? In what way could this possibly be any good for anyone?

It’s not just limited to our very human experiences where we question God. It can be in theological beliefs that seem to contradict everything that we believe about God. We can’t get our head around predestination because how could a loving God willingly create some people knowing fully that they will end up in Hell? How could a God create a place like Hell in the first place? How can some people even start to suggest that someone like Hitler may get the chance to repent for all the horrible things he committed, so that even Hitler could end up in Heaven?

I’ve touched on a few but there are a thousand more different doubts that can manifest in our minds.

When faced with these questions and when we are honest enough to admit to others that we are struggling with some aspects of our faith, often we will bring these to someone we think will have some sort of answer. Many times, the best answer is to not have an answer. To allow someone the freedom to have questions and have that be alright. Yet, an answer that is regularly given, has become our default position for such questions.

It is this.

“God’s ways are not our ways”

This is a great answer because in one quick response we have given an answer that is intended to clear up everything and leave the person satisfied. If there are some things that we can’t understand about God and the ways things are (or at least perceived to be) then we can stop questioning. We can never understand. We will always have questions and we should just accept it and get on with things.

Except, this response and ones like it only leave us frustrated and with more questions that answers.

When someone we love is tragically taken from us, I wonder how comforting it is to know that God has some plan we can’t see.

If the idea of your friends going to Hell because there is nothing they can do to change it because God has already decided, doesn’t sit well with you; I wonder how we can continue to spread God’s love, when it seems so pointless.

As a human I am well aware of my frailties and I have experienced the love of God, even amidst suffering, (some self inflicted, some not) many, many times. There have been thousands of moments where I have just not “got it” only to see God reveal something magical and beautiful that only He could have seen coming.

So I understand that there are things that we will never understand but God’s love and Grace is big enough for us to still have questions, doubts and anger towards God. A reply like “God’s ways are not our ways” is only helpful to the person posed the question as it allows them off the hook from engaging with the person in their pain, in their sense of injustice. In their doubt.

We can wipe our hands clean, without actually entering into dialogue or sitting with someone who is dealing with a new world framed by tragedy.

It is actually in those times if we were just to allow ourselves to be with the person and accept their questions and doubts, that God can actually reveal Himself.

Even Jesus before He was killed had questions about why He needed to suffer. He, just like us, “didn’t get it”. He actually asked God if there could be another way other than what was planned. Yet, even in that place of despair and anguish, He was obedient.

Perhaps this is why we give such glib answers when confronted with others pain. If Jesus was obedient then we should just accept what happens to us too. Yet, the very real fears that Jesus held aren’t something we can just ignore. They are actually the way that we can bring our doubts to God honestly without fear of being rejected. We may not understand why this is happening, but we can understand at least in a purely theoretical way if not practically at first, that Jesus “gets it”.

After all, He had the same questions as we do. So we can be confident that our doubts are legitimate. Our pain is real and it is recognized. Telling someone that this is just the way things are, leaves us further from God.

But on the cross Jesus, grew closer to God. He understood that in some strange way, this pain was not unseen. So too, we can approach God knowing our pain is seen and known. And it is not glib to God.

The point of this post is not to give you answers in the pain you are deeply hurting by right now. I can’t and I may never be able to.

What I and we all can do hopefully though, is allow each other the love to deeply feel those pains. To be fully human. To not fob each other off with answers that simply exist to cause more hurt.

Much of this type of discussion is built around ideas of justice. When things happen to us that don’t seem fair we question how God can be just. Yet the very same people that tell us that God’s ways of justice are not the same as ours, will become defensive when we suggest that everyone may have a chance to be redeemed. Our views of justice tell us that people who do wrong need to be punished. That God can’t face sin and He needs to reject everything that causes sin. But what if God’s view is that those people need to be loved more than anything. Yes, that may mean that they are prevented from acting in evil ways again, but it does not mean we reject them fully.

Take predestination which I previously mentioned. The basic idea that God has ordained that only certain people, the “elect”, will be saved and everyone else will spend eternity in Hell. There are other slight variations on this but at the core is this belief. Yet, how does this idea of God fit into all the accounts of God and Jesus where They show incredible love for people.

At this point, the answer of “God’s ways…” answers it for us. We can ignore all the logical problems that predestination causes because we can’t know. Perhaps, we can’t but is there a chance that the way we have thought about this could be wrong? God is God but He was also fully human which means to ignore the very real human problems we have with such ideas, is to ignore some of the character of God.

Maybe, it is actually to these traditional points of view of predestination or God’s eternal justice, where we need to say “God’s ways are not our ways”.

We have it all figured out on who is in and who is out.

But maybe,

“God’s ways are not our ways”

We experience pain, we experience things that don’t make sense. Yet the point of Isaiah 55 is not that we should just suck it up, but that there is peace even in the pain. Often, we can’t see around it but God is offering us peace. Not just on the other side of suffering or doubt (if there is in fact ever another side sometimes) but in the middle of it.

If you are someone that thinks that those answers that leave us cold, are not the end, then this is good news. It’s good news because you have seen who God is. You are seeing God as Jesus, who understood doubt and pain more than anyone.

You are invited to open yourself to those questions. It will be painful and difficult. Occassionally, it will not make sense. Yet you will not be alone. You will be understood. God’s love is far bigger and wider than certain beliefs we hold onto. It is more welcoming and full of grace than we give God credit for.

Which is great news for everyone,

Because God’s ways are not our ways.

Why the DUP are the new Pharisees.

The recent banning of the Reduced Shakespeare Play of the Abridged version of the Bible is more than just about censorship. It is more than just about a political party exerting control over the arts and much more to do with fear.

The fear of some Fundamental Evangelical Christians that their rights as Christians are being torn apart. The fear of their version of Christianity being slowly eroded which would leave them in a position of vulnerability. The fear that Christianity will come tumbling down because of a play. Continue reading

When God sees the funny side: An open Letter.

jesuspaysbill

Dear Mr Ball,

I remember years ago being brought by my mum and some friends to see the Reduced Shakespeare company play of the Bible in Belfast. I must have been about 12 or 13.

I love comedy and I love God. Sometimes we think that the two are incompatible. That for some reason God calls us to complete reverence when it comes to Him and certainly when it comes to the Bible itself.

I would love to ask you what about the play when you saw it upset you so much? Continue reading

Is God really always there to help us?

God won’t give you anything you can’t handle.

Really?

Because there have been many times when I have failed. Many times when I was alone and prayed to God to protect me from temptation only to give in and look at porn a few minutes later. Many times when I had to give a talk that I was nervous for and definitely didn’t do the message or myself any justice.

So is it true that God won’t give us anything we can’t handle? Continue reading

Worshipping worship.

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Everyone knows why prayer is important right? Everyone knows why we should read our Bibles? These seem like pretty obvious ideas for Christians to implement. But what about worship?

I used to think worship as something that not everyone was supposed to do. I mean I have heard some people sing and I’m not quite sure how those noises can bring Glory to God. Regardless of my or your musical ability, worship is something that I think we can all benefit from partaking in.

So first off, perhaps the fact that some of us have been blessed with a good ear while others it seems were last in the line for musical ability. shows that worship is more than just music.

I think that much should be clear to most people; so how then can we move forward and offer a definition of worship that can welcome everyone.

Let me suggest one. Continue reading

Why I loved, then hated and started to love worship music again. Part 1.

If worship music and I were in a relationship we would be Ross and Rachel. We are meant to be together but we’ve had our ups and downs over the years; even been on a break but ultimately everyone knows we’ll end up together.

Even writing this about how I am falling in love with worship music again, or at least the idea of worship music, I know that by next week we could have had a massive falling out.

Worship music for me was always about a song that could create an emotion in me. One that made me feel close to God or excited about God; made me feel like all the stuff that I know messes me up is forgiven and gave me hope.

There were songs that I loved to sing with other believers and honestly some of the times I have felt most at peace in this life has been with other Christians singing these songs. I remember listening to Amy Grant and Marantha! worship cassette tapes as a kid in the car. Going further back I remember Psalty. Worship in song form has shaped my faith in so many ways.

Then something changed. I started to grow tired of worship music and I started to tire of God. I am pretty confident that the correlation between my struggles with worship music and with God are linked. There are obviously a lot of other factors such as sin or life circumstances or my doubt (or my misbelief that doubt relates to the absence of God), but none of these were as loud in my life when my relationship with worship music was strong.

So what changed?

Well I did for a start. After a while Psalty just didn’t cut it. So he got thrown out (If your get that reference then you were a Psalty kid too) After a while I also became embarrassed by many practices in church some of which were music related.

Which was a big thing for me.

Music was something that was important to me. Music was the thing that most of my close friends and I bonded over. Discovering new music, going to shows and generally spending all our money on CD’s was our favorite thing to do together. We liked the same bands and we liked different bands but music was at the core of most of what we did together.

The problem with worship music was that it just didn’t match up to the music I was listening to. It wasn’t as good musically, most of the songs sounded the same and it all seemed so contrite. As a teenager most of my spiritual experiences were to be found in a dark club watching a band rather than in a Church with my hands in the air.

Worship music it seemed to me, became less about worship and more about performance. Worship leaders had to look good, kids at shows were there more to be seen than anything else and the lyrics were unconnected to anything that I was going through or feeling.

If I didn’t feel good during the worship part of a service then I felt left out as if I was an imposter. Music and faith was all connected in how you were doing. But what about the times when I didn’t feel like God loved me? How could I sing ‘Blessed be His name’ then?

Then there was of course the style of music. I hate most Christian music. There I said it. I know I am not the only one. But even the style of music wasn’t so much the problem as was the lack of creativity that it showed.

And here in lies the problem I had with most worship music. I believed and believe that God is a creative God. A God who is constantly creating and recreating life. In our individual lives, in our communities and in every part of human life. But I believe that Christianity excludes this character of God more often than not. If a Christian artist is relying on sounding like Snow Patrol or by changing the lyrics of Coldplay songs to express something then we are in trouble.

Now, I realize that much of this post is negative and it has probably made some people upset or angry and that is ok. It is ok because for a long time I felt that way too. For so long I fought against worship music in my mind until I realised that my unhappiness was actually a good thing. It was a good thing because my problems with it mainly came from the feeling that there must be more. That worship music should be creative, surprising and ground breaking.

My unhappiness was simply the process of me increasingly lining up more and more with who God is.

A God who loves to create.

So as I struggled with worship music in church and the subsequent struggle with who God is I realized that there was hope all along. That God had been trying to say something to me about who He is and who I am.

So I took worship music back. I started to look for music that was creative, yet still pointed to God in a way that helped me grow. I looked for music that was honest, even when that was ugly in comparison to how much of worship music portrays those who are feeling good about God as the norm.

I found artists like Gungor. Bands who didn’t rely on old formulas or old cliches. Bands whose sound changed with every album. Bands who were creative and equally comfortable writing songs about struggling alongside songs of praise to God.

About a God who wants worship to be something that doesn’t just deal with the nice, happy emotions but with the ugly, unspeakable ones too.

Worship that is real and honest.

Or as we’ll discover in Part 2, worship that is more than just about music.

Reclaiming Christian cliches: We’re all sinners!

Sinners-Wanted

Romans 3v 23. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…

Do you know what is the most horrible experience you go through when you are a kid?

Finding out that the tooth fairy doesn’t exist?

No.

Finding out that Mum and Dad have consistently lied to you for years every Christmas?

No. (Which by the way explains why they were always so keen on leaving treats out for Santa; I always doubted his ability to fly a sleigh after a glass of mulled wine or three) Continue reading

Why isn’t God showing up? Reading the Bible imaginatively, 3.

The best way to learn something is to just give it a go. Now I’m not suggesting that you tie some ropes around a tree and jump off the nearest waterfall to learn how to bungee jump. I want that to be clear because I don’t want a lawsuit on my hands.

What I do mean though is that it’s through trial and error that things really sink in. We need people to guide us when learning certain tasks, whether that’s through a teacher, an expert or even through a youtube video. We can’t just change a car battery unless you know what it looks like and how it fits in and which parts it connects to and so forth. Once someone shows you and is with you as you try it the best way to learn is to then give it a shot yourself and when you make a mistake you will be ready to fix it next time. If someone fixes it for you may have a working car battery but will you have the practical experience of fixing it yourself? Continue reading